While the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most profitable in the world, over 2 billion people lack access to essential medicines. Although much pharmaceutical Research and Development (R&D) in part is publicly funded, companies habitually claim very high development costs as an excuse for the often exorbitant and, for the poor, unaffordable prices of drugs. Generic versions of these vital medicines can be made available, but when a new medication is created, it is understood to be protected by ‘intellectual property’ and can be patented for 20 years.
Additionally, the practice of ‘evergreening’ is often used to extend these patents by repeatedly making minute modifications to the product concerned. Governments attempting to override them are met by huge resistance from the corporations concerned, while other governments are often supportive of their actions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, new drug approvals have increased significantly over the past few years, which is great news, but most of the new drugs are available at prohibitive prices and require health care systems to resort to extensive negotiations to ensure affordability.
Dr Panos Kanavos will discuss this situation with us. He is Associate Professor in International Health Policy in the Department of Health Policy at the London School of Economics, and Programme Director of the Medical Technology Research Group, which administers the Programme on Pharmaceutical issues. An economist by training, his teaching role currently includes Health Care Financing and Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy.